The right to drive in Saudi if you’re a woman is coming. I just know it. Now that women can sell panties, braziers and silk nighties in the souqs and marvellous shopping malls of Saudi Arabia, and men cannot, well, the right to drive must be coming!
It’s a jubilance for me that comes from the memory of the indignity of having to slide my underpants, and special lingerie treats to self, over the counter to the salesmen who, always, maintained the steely strength of professionalism in poise and expression. No perverts in La Senza (though there is something perverse about women not being allowed to sell underwear). In some of the private shops, however, the sellers would ‘measure’ the items against you. I speak of the abaya now (the long black dress that women wear over their clothing when outdoors). The intentions were not honorable. I swear these male merchant letches got a thrill out of feathering a woman with their fingertips all while keeping a dead straight look on their faces. It was soft and fast but unmistakeable. I was not the only woman in such an unfair situation to let out an “Excuse me!” or a shriek and a glare and a tirade to a friend on the way out the door. My expat and Saudi friends suffered it alike.
Today, it’s a memory, part of the wonderful experience of living in that beautiful country, and it didn’t happen often to me, but it was one of those things that made me and every woman peer twice at a small shop before going in to buy clothing. A man selling to a woman in hijab, fully covered, her private collections…it’s wrong.
Hooray to the Saudi government for finally making the change. It displaces male earners and puts more money in the hands of women to feed their families with. More importantly, it gives women a more visible presence, a purpose, a rightful place in the marketplace. I suspect it will only lead to more liberal actions, reforms, whatever you want to call it. It’s a chance for lower class Saudi women to gain some esteem where it might be lacking, some control over their lives, a different view, the pleasure of a challenge new to them. And what a joy it will be to have no more men hovering in the corner while the girls and their mothers and aunts and cousins and sisters are picking out the most intimate of things: their lingerie.